Ten Steps to a Successful Group Document

Your team has been asked to write a document. Define team however you’d like: department, working groups, sales force, or other stakeholders. The specific nature of document isn’t important, either—it’s just something that everyone in the group will use, like a sales brochure or a mission statement. What do you do?

Basketball is a team sport. Writing, however, is not. Just as you wouldn’t ask a group of people to paint an oil painting together, or ask the accounting department to all fix mussels in cream sauce in the employee kitchen, you can’t expect a group of people to write something successfully. However, there are ways to create a team document that results in quality as well as buy-in from everyone involved.

First, select a leader to head up the process. Even though you’re writing a group document, someone still has to lead the effort. It may be the team’s customary head—the manager or supervisor—or it can be someone else with a special interest or ability in this area. This person may or may not be the designated author.

Second, select a review group. These are the people that will create a vision for the document and filter feedback along the way. It shouldn’t be a large group—three people are plenty. If the leader isn’t the writer, someone in this review group will be.

Third, solicit input. What do the people on the team want to include in this document? How would they like to see it formatted? What’s important and what’s not important? What don’t they want to see? This input can be gathered in a variety of ways, such as by e-mail or even in face-to-face information-gathering sessions, but the method isn’t as important as giving everyone a chance to weigh in. However, make sure that everyone knows that while their input is important, everyone’s ideas may not be implemented.

Fourth, assemble the review group and decide on a plan. Every idea can’t be incorporated, and some ideas will be better than others. The group needs to create a blueprint or an outline to move forward.

Fifth, the writer creates a draft of the document—by him or herself. It’s key that for clarity, continuity and consistent style and tone of voice, there should only be one author.

Basketball is a team sport. Writing, however, is not.

Step six is to distribute the draft to the review team for initial modifications. The goal is to ensure that the actual document matches the blueprint that the team envisioned.

Next, distribute the document to the entire team for feedback. Give them a set time period—a few days, usually, so that the task isn’t put off and forgotten—and a way to offer feedback.

Eighth, the review team selects the appropriate feedback and makes suggestions to the author.

Ninth, the author revises the document based on the filtered feedback. And tenth, the final document is prepared and distributed.

In this way, the entire team has had buy-in and input into the document, but the process was carefully controlled such that there were not too many cooks in the kitchen. If 20 people are asked to write a document, the document will read like a hodge-podge of 20 different people’s personalities. The key is to solicit input, filter it, and allow one skilled individual to craft the message based on the desires of the team.

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